Sex and drugs: Gay dating apps are facilitating more than just hookups

By Luke Toomey

Drug dealers are increasingly using online dating apps such as Grindr to sell ‘chems’ and other illegal drugs in Dublin.

Drugs such as MDMA, cocaine, speed, crystal methamphetamine, mephedrone, GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), ketamine, cannabis, Viagra, Xanax and more can be found easily on the app.

Despite Grindr’s efforts in the past to address and stamp out the selling and promoting of drugs on its app, users say there is still a growing market for illicit substances. While attempting to smuggle drugs using the postal service is nothing new, dealers are now starting to use third-party parcel storage delivery firms to move their goods.

The rise of gay dating sites in the 1990s, such as early entrants Manhunt and Adam4Adam, provided gay men with new ways to connect. But over time, digital platforms geared toward men who have sex with men (MSM) have also created a more convenient way for gay and bisexual men to find drugs, and for drug dealers to find them.

The European men who have sex with men internet survey (EMIS-2017), published in October, revealed that 41% of Irish participants admitted to using at least one illicit substance in the past year which is a 5% increase from 2015.

SECRET CODE

While some users on the app are explicit in their intentions with drugs, others utilise covert ways, to indicate that they are looking to buy and sell. GHB is often referred to as ‘G’ or ‘Gina’ whereas the capital ‘T’ refers to meth’s street name, ‘Tina’. Users integrate the capital ‘T’ into seemingly benign phrases, such as “get to the poinT”, which is a euphemism for the injecting, or ‘slamming’, of crystal meth.

Beyond code words, there’s also an array of emojis that are co-opted to indicate different types of drugs. For example, snowflakes and diamonds are used to get the attention of those looking to purchase cocaine and meth, respectively.

Grindr has a compiled list of banned words and phrases that results in immediate censorship if a user attempts to input them into their profile. However, with language and slang constantly evolving, Grindr’s digital screening tool is fighting a losing battle.

BOOMING MARKET

While there is no data that quantifies drug activity on Grindr, over a dozen people who use the app shared their experience of its prevalence.

“It’s definitely gotten worse in the past few years,” said one user who wished to remain anonymous. “Its a quick and easy place to source drugs, especially if your coming into a city where you may not know anyone personally,” he added.

Brendan O’Donnell, a Grindr user in Limerick, noted that drug activity seems to be mainly concentrated in Dublin. “Honestly I’d say I come across it at least once a week but sometimes a lot more than that,” he said. “It can be very enticing to go to sex parties advertised on Grindr where there are drugs and even those who are not into drugs will be more likely try them at a sex party,” he added. “In Dublin at the weekend, Grindr is rampant with people offering or looking for drugs.”

A user who sells drugs on the app, who spoke on the condition he not be named, claims that his means of business are safer than traditional methods.

“Using the app gives me a layer of cover that normal dealers don’t have,” he said. “I rarely get my profile taken down,” he added. “It gives me more customers than I would normally get too.

“I use Parcel Motel to both collect and deliver my stuff, and I know I’m not the only one who is doing it.”

Instead of having the drugs sent to their homes, buyers are often having them delivered to private parcel storage companies such as Parcel Motel. Customs Drugs Law Enforcement in the Revenue Investigations & Prosecutions Division, have previously said the practice is becoming more and more prevalent.

OVERDOSES

Pharmaceutical GHB, in the form of sodium oxybate is a treatment for narcolepsy and alcohol withdrawal but is also synonymous with the chemsex scene. While GHB is a restricted substance, precursor substance, GBL, is available for purchase online as an industrial cleaning solvent.

Latest hospital in-patient enquiry figures (HIPE) showed that 15 people have overdosed on the drug in the last two years, although medics believe that number to be much higher. The liquid substance is ingested and very easy to overdose on. There has also been a number of deaths in recent years and 55% increase in people referred to the GHB detoxification clinic.

Grindr and Parcel Motel have been approached for comment but did not respond by time of publication. When contacted, An Garda Síochána stated that, “we deal with enforcing legislation and are not best placed to answer such questions.”

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